18/04/16 400 years ago, Shakespeare understood mental ill health. There’s no excuse for ignorance today 

  
Hamlet.

To be, or not to be- that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer 

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune 

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, 

And by opposing end them. To die- to sleep-

No more; and by a sleep to say we end 

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks 

That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation 

Devoutly to be wish’d. To die- to sleep. 

To sleep- perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub! 

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come 

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, 

Must give us pause. There’s the respect 

That makes calamity of so long life. 

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, 

Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, 

The pangs of despis’d love, the law’s delay, 

The insolence of office, and the spurns 

That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes, 

When he himself might his quietus make 

With a bare bodkin? Who would these fardels bear, 

To grunt and sweat under a weary life, 

But that the dread of something after death-

The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn

No traveller returns- puzzles the will, 

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of? 

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, 

And thus the native hue of resolution 

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pith and moment 

With this regard their currents turn awry 

And lose the name of action.- Soft you now! 

The fair Ophelia!- Nymph, in thy orisons 

Be all my sins rememb’red.

Walk a mile

Chris

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12/04/16 A hanging! A hanging! Oh goody, a hanging! 

This week, Stephen Fry has been called out as an all round bad guy when he, according to the Guardian, exclaimed the following when talking about the self pity he believes that motivates individual requests for trigger warnings…

“It’s a great shame and we’re all very sorry that your uncle touched you in that nasty place, you get some of my sympathy, but your self-pity gets none of my sympathy because self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity.

“Get rid of it, because no one’s going to like you if you feel sorry for yourself. The irony is we’ll feel sorry for you, if you stop feeling sorry for yourself. Just grow up.”

Stephen Fry, what a…

I always knew he was a…

I mean, with his over privileged background going to school at…

And uni at, well, you know…

Remember when he bailed out of that west end play because he had…

What about the BAFTA’s where he called that poor woman a ‘bag lady’? 

Don’t get me wrong, I always liked him in…er…thingy…although he wasn’t so good in…that other one…

Imagine being under that much public scrutiny? Being anointed the president of Mind, and, as such, the King of the crazy folk…?
Have you ever said anything that might cause others to say, ‘I say, steady on…’ ? 

Or something that has led you to say, ‘Shit, I said WHAT???’

Have you ever thought, ‘Fuck it, that’s it, I’m finished with Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Friends Unrequited…I just need to get away from it all…?’

This may not come as a great surprise to many of you, but this isn’t the first time Mr Fry has spoken publicly on his opinion on self pity. 

Take a look here 

And yet, somehow these seem to have slipped past the scrutiny of the wider media. Or, at least, my scrutiny. 

So, why is his, consistent if anything, opinion of such great interest now? 

It never ceases to entertain me, the media’s, ‘Hey, we’re just reporting a story,’ view of events; the bland denial that their reportage impacts the very story they’re writing about…

I’ve digressed. 

What’s happened here? 

It would appear that, and please correct me if I’m off beam here, Stephen Fry is having a go at a group of people who, he understands, are demanding that any potentially challenging media, written, filmed or sung – that, he claims, includes the word, ‘rape’ – whatever, must be prefixed with a ‘trigger warning’ to protect them from pain. 

These ‘demands’, he would be appear to be saying, somehow make a mockery of our great history of literature, from Shakespeare to Dickens, censoring our favourite scenes of wholesale slaughter and murder, because of self-pity. 

How he conflated ‘trigger warnings’ with ‘self-pity’, well, I’m buggered if I know. 

What does this tell us? 
Well I, for one, wouldn’t be rushing out in the hope of gaining his sympathy. 

Is he right?

Is he a prick?

Are these attributes mutually exclusive? 

Ok, it’s time to get all walkamiley on him. Let’s start with the Walkamile fundamental…the cornerstone of this here…

People are fabulous. 

Bit trite? Vacuous? Patronising? 

Fuck off! People are fabulous. 

Join me on this mental ramble as I bump into Mr Fry, the writer, the raconteur, the actor, the…the…

Anyway – we get into conversation – he offloads the above…what are my first thoughts?

Let’s start with self pity. 

From my ‘knowledge’ of the man, I ‘know’ that he has almost died of self pity a number of times. 

Regardless of his achievements, he, according to his own accounts, has reached that lowest of all low points, where he’s felt his contributions to the world are, at best, meaningless, and/ or that he’s a burden on all of the people he loves. 

He hates self pity because it’s the attribute in himself that he despises the most. 

Sure, it’s a hypothesis, but it’s a point of engagement, of conversation, an attempt to understand where on earth he can be coming from with all this. 

Quite simply, I’d ask him. 
On the subject of ‘trigger warnings’ and hordes of self pitying er, self pitiers…

Where are they? 

I don’t think I know anyone who demands trigger warnings at the beginning of…anything really. 
That said, I must hold my hands up and say I’ve put warnings at the start of many, well, at least a few, things.

Why would I do that? 

Respect?

Fear I might cause someone pain? 

Is this misplaced? Patronising? Prejudiced? Stigmatising? 

Bugger, yes it is. And, er, maybe it isn’t. 

Why do large mental health organisations put up trigger warnings? 

For all the above reasons, I’m guessing. 

So why should he get into a lather about these, seemingly benign, warnings?

I don’t know, and neither do you.

He might see them as an attack on this great British way of life from which he gains huge comfort – he, apparently, loves to show off his academic prowess as he recalls these ancient scripts that are so dear to him…

Or, he might see this care, compassion and concern from others as despicable for other reasons…

Perhaps he hates his own vulnerability so much that, when kindness is offered, he despises that too, in a maelstrom of confused emotions? 

How does respect for someone translate into their self pity? 

Who knows? 

I certainly don’t. 

I know one thing though.

He’s fabulous. 

How do I know this?

Because everyone I’ve met on this grand Walkamile tour so far has been just that – fabulous.

But he said…

Yes, he might well have said…

And, good God, yes his words were painful, prejudiced, attacking, disparaging, disgusting and unacceptable in equal measures. 

Especially for someone in his position…

As Voltaire probably didn’t say

“I don’t agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

I’m a big fan of free speech, partly because it allows others the right to challenge me, sorry, my words, when I spout something ridonculous. 

What’s the difference? Me? My words? 

You? Your words? 

If I were to meet the man, I’d like to think I could separate the person from his behaviour. 

If I hold in my mind the prejudice – a preconceived belief – that he’s fabulous, I’d see these misplaced and hurtful words as out of character for him. 

I guess my argument is somewhat weakened by the fact that he’s spouted this before – but I still see this as the tip of an unknown iceberg. 

So, Mind are going to have a word with him? I’m guessing (there’s that word again) that they have known him to say things like this before. 

So why are they showing their righteous indignation now?

It’s funny, the thing that’s bugged me most in this latest Frygate incident isn’t his words – it’s the standpoint of this huge organisation that they’re going to have a word with him. 

For us.

I’m pretty sure that Mind, as an organisation, know, or have access to, approximately a bazillion folk, give or take, who’ve experienced sexual abuse who’d be more than happy to have that word with Mr Fry. 

Why don’t they, why can’t they, facilitate such a meeting where he’s held to task by one of the very people, me included, who’ve been disriminated against by his words, and who are, quite rightfully distressed and/ or pissed off? 

They could film it. 

Alternatively, they could have a private word with him, and he’ll apologise/ resign/ walk away from it all in due course. 

And nothing will change. 

People’s views will continue to be polarised, and large organisations will continue claim to talk on behalf the poor people they say they’re protecting, as such disabling folk more than they were in the first place. 

It’s time to change that particular status quo. 

I was sexually abused as a child. 

I feel the impact of all kinds of media – yes, I’m triggered by stuff, yes, sometimes I’ll dissociate as a result of something I read, see or hear – and I’ve told people time and again, as someone who calls himself a mental health campaigner, that’s a hit I’m willing, if not happy to take.

But that’s my choice. 

In an ideal world, I’d prefer to be given the heads up, because there are some times when I’m more able to take that hit than others. 

And I’m guessing, there’s that word again, there are many folk like me. 

To be singled out with this vitriolic discrimination as someone who’s self pitying, frankly, pisses me off. 

To have a huge mental health charity promising to ‘have a word’ pisses me off more, especially when I and/ or the bazillion people in my position could have that word with more credibility and validity. 

So, Stephen, Mr Fry, President of Mind, I’d be delighted if you’d take the time to have a chat with me, or someone like me, to start to clear up this sorry affair.

Personally, I’d start by saying,

 ‘I don’t want your sympathy.’

‘Empathy would be nice, but sympathy? No thanks.’

Walk a mile

Chris

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06/04/16 39 years

A young boy, 12 years and 1 month to the day, would lie in futile defiance on his bed, 

top button undone, black tie askew, funeral unattended, whispering, ‘Not even for you, mum,’

Breathe in…breathe out,

Blackbirds singing – almost questioning in the predawn air – is it morning yet?

A man, a warrior with many victorious battles to his name, sat hunched, alone, waiting for that cruel inevitability that comes to us all,

A fight that can’t be won, 

Breathe in, breathe out, 

Hoping against hope. 

‘You’re gettin’ the colour back in your cheeks, Hen,’ he’d said.

A weak smile in collusion. 

This gentle man, 54 years old, with sparkling blue eyes, returning home to his boys, 11 and 12, 

‘We’ve always been honest…’ he’d said

‘She’s coming home to die…’

Sage youthful nods over a game of Subbuteo, no real knowledge of what that could possibly mean,

Breathe in, breathe out, 

This vibrant woman, with a ready smile and massive heart…surely there’s some mistake…maybe it’s someone else’s mum who…?

It’s normal for a while. We learn about the comfort of an orthopaedic bed…she wears a blue nightgown for the first time, it kinda suits her….

She seems fine…maybe dad got it wrong…?

Breathe in, breathe out, 

2 boys clatter into the living room with youthful exuberance – they’re laughing – she’s laughing…

‘Who’s your friend, John?’ she asks, still smiling.

A screaming silence – my mind yelling, ‘It’s me, mum…it’s me…!’

Breathe in, breathe out, 

‘We’ve got you something for your birthday,’ she said, ‘but I can’t remember where I’ve hidden it…’

Together we laughed, turning the living room over as we searched…sofa…sideboard…under tables…through cupboards…giggling like…giggling like…idiots…

There were no presents…how could a housebound, terminally ill woman possibly….but God, we’d laughed!

Breathe in, breathe out,

We were all aging rapidly, childhood memories of that attentive dad, my beautiful, beautiful dad, where I’d get that peck on the lips, good night, and we’d both say, ‘Eeeeeeeeee!’ as he held his stubbled cheek against mine…slipping through my fingers…grains of sand…grains…of…sand…

Breathe in, breathe out,

For a mercifully short time, the bed came downstairs when it all became too much…into the body of our little family…

Strange animal sounds started coming from her lips…pain and drug induced…dad so very attentive as this…the woman he adored…writhed in that slow, agonising journey…

‘Let’s get you covered up,’ he bustled into the living room as this creature that she’d become kicked off the duvet as I saw her naked, skinny and gaunt for the first time, the grey roots of her hair mocking her, 

Breathe in, breathe out,

‘You’re mum’s always loved Red Rum,’ dad had said, ‘I’ve put an each way bet on him in the National,’ at 12 years old, same age as me, this old nag was expected to complete the course and little else…

Complete the course…

Hope against hope…

We watched the TV in disbelief as…

Against all the odds…

‘He won for you…’ Dad whispered to mum…

Against all the odds…maybe…just maybe…

Breathe in, breathe out,

4 short…long days later, Dad had always been quiet, but never broken, head in hands…utterly exhausted…he looked up at me…’You’re Mum passed away at 6 o’clock this morning,’ I’d missed her by an hour, ‘can you go upstairs and tell your brother?’ utterly, utterly spent…

‘John, mum’s dead,’ I’d said, not having any notion of what those words meant…

‘It’s a custom – out of respect, I think,’ Dad, sounding brighter now, told us why we kept the curtains closed…

Mark Algacs came round to see if we were coming out to play…

‘I can’t, Mum’s died…’ I’d started, and then, seeing the shocked look on my friends face, consoled him with, ‘it’s ok, we’ll get free school dinners now…’

Mrs Murie, mum’s friend from work popped in, ‘I sensed something had happened,’ I think she was trying to add some spiritual mystery to the day.

In reality the curtains had been closed – a fanfare – a declaration that she’d gone.

A guilty relief. 

‘You don’t have to come to the funeral,’ Dad had said.

I think he was being the great dad he was by giving us the choice – perhaps there was some small part of him protecting himself from the unbearable outpouring of grief from his boys as the woman he’d loved – where fate had given him a glimpse of all that was beautiful in life – after surviviving the disgusting bloody mess of the Second World War – as the woman he loved was lowered into the ground,

‘Be strong for your dad,’ people whispered conspiratorially…

I was 12, for fuck’s sake!

12 years and one month.

Just like I am today…

It’s 6 o’clock on the 6th of April,
I’m lying next to Ella in the semi darkness of the dawn, listening to the birds with their questioning songs, and her gentle breath,
Breathe in, breathe out,

Remembering

39 years

Walk a mile

Chris

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26/03/16 Don’t RUN a mile – WALK a mile. 

  
Well, that was a most interesting day! It all started with Pass the Badge in Livingston town centre. 

PASS THE BADGE

‘Pass the badge? What on earth’s that?’ I here you cry. 

Wonder no more, dear reader, wonder no more. 

Pass the badge is the realisation of a wonderfully simple idea by Richard Monaghan, that involves, it’ll come as no surprise to you, passing a badge on to strangers as they go about their business. 

Each badge comes with a small card with 2 simple messages printed on it – that one in four of us will, at some point in our lives, experience a mental health problem and, that 9 out of 10 of those people will experience some manner of stigma because of it. 

All we asked was that people would keep the badge for a day, then pass it on – along with the messages – to someone else, to keep the conversation going. 

It really is THAT simple. 

As you’d expect, a bunch of folks dodged us using dazzling footwork that Johan Cruyff would have envied, but they were in the minority. 

I was lucky enough to share some time with a number of lovely folk who just took the time…

It’s time to come clear – the ‘Don’t run a mile – walk a mile’ idea wasn’t mine…it came from a couple who stopped for a chat and to share a badge in the middle of a busy shopping centre in Livingston. 

She had developed depression late in life – yes, she was shocked at the pain of a mental malady, but also seemed to be equally taken aback by the, er, inconsistent, responses from folk. 

The ‘pull yourself together’ folk; the ‘You can’t be depressed, your hair’s clean and tidy’ folk…

The folk who don’t know much about mental ill health folk….

Her husband, the same guy who came up with the heading of this blog, described their situation beautifully. 

‘It’s like she’s in another room, behind a locked door…I know she’s in there but I can’t reach her…’

They took a badge each – they both clearly wanted to keep the conversation going. 

In the short time we were there, I was fortunate to meet a variety of interesting folk – people with rich and absorbing stories – stories that I’m wealthier – taller – for hearing.

The man who’s the carer for his wife, whose hours are filled with her physical needs…emotionally and physically tired…

The older woman who’s cared for her daughter with bipolar – who’s worried about what happens to her daughter after she’s gone…

The couple with their only son who’s recently been diagnosed with high functioning autism – after a lifetime in school where he’d been labelled as unruly and badly behaved – a diagnosis/ description that came 2 years after he’d left school – 2 years too late. 

The husband had been unceremoniously dumped from the army after 23 years of service. Now diagnosed with PTSD, he feels he’s been left on the scrap heap of life…

And many, many more. 

Folk who didn’t want anything from me – who just wanted to share their story. 

WALK A MILE

The wonderful thing about social media is that you can meet people for the first time at the same time feeling you’d known them for years. 

Such was the case with the lovely Freda. 

As we were gathering our bits and pieces for the start of the #letswalkamile #livingston, I looked across the small square – and there she was. 

‘I know you, don’t I?’ I smiled.
She might have said, ‘I think so,’ but in no time it felt like we were talking like old friends. 

  
Talking like old friends about such a difficult subject – the fact that only two years ago, her cherished daughter, Evie, had completed suicide – I watched as a single tear traced its way down her face.

She told me how, in her suicide note, Evie had encouraged her to add that splash of colour to her hair that she’d always promised to…and there it was.

The feeling of loss was palpable – I wanted to do something – I wanted to make it all better – but what could I do? I could listen – I think that’s all anyone could do – so that’s what I did. 

Freda described her grief as a testament to Evie’s death – something that she never wanted to pass – she showed me the semi-colon she’d had tattooed to her wrist…

All too soon our conversation was over – it was time to walk a mile. 
Folk gathered round and I guided them to find a stranger to share their walk with – or not; to talk about mental health – or not…

I might have mentioned this a bazillion times, walk a mile is what you make of it. 

THE TARTAN EXPLORER

  
I walked my mile with Josh Quigley, The Tartan Explorer – a 23 year old entrepreneur who, following a suicide attempt, has decided to cycle around Scotland and then the world to make a noise about mental health, to become a mental health ambassador. 

We talked about what a great adventure lies before him and how people are fabulous. 
You can read about him here

We arrived at Livingston Football Stadium where he talked confidently about the origins of The Tartan Explorer and what to expect from his adventure. 

As Josh gathered himself, hugged folk, posed for photo shoots…I smiled and laughed with Neil, the guy who’d privided the bike for the Tartan explorer at Josh’s lack of contingency plans should, er, something happen. 

Absolute hypocrisy on my part – yes, me, the same guy who walked north out of Edinburgh all that time ago, with a solid belief that that the good people of Scotland would look after me on my way….

He’ll be fine. 

KILIMANJARO 

I was lucky enough to be sitting next to Niamh, a young woman who has a very similar perspective to the world as me. She knew Evie, and is friends with Freda.

  
She was talking about consiliation and understanding when folk with little or no experience of mental ill health might ‘get it wrong’ or ‘say the wrong thing’. 

I’m sure I hadn’t adopted this philosophy until I was 40. 
She got my attention with ease. 
She told me how her dad was an ecologist and how she’d lost her mum to post natal depression – leaving me with so many questions that, so far, have remained unasked. 

She told me that climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania had been on Evie’s bucket list – and that, as a testament to her, Niamh, her dad and some others planned to conquer that summit at some point in 2018.

I can’t do justice to Niamh’s delivery of that story in a simple blog – the very idea, as I told her at the time, raised the hairs on the back of my neck. 

Without missing a beat, she asked me, ‘Would you like to come?’ or words very similar to that.

I was obviously flattered and thrilled at being asked and at the thought of being part of this terrific adventure. My inclination in situations like this is always to say yes. 

Such is my trust in Ella, I explained to Niamh that I’d have to have that discussion with her before I was able to say YES in capitals – in BIG – for definite. 
Ella bowled up to our table – I always love watching her float from folk to folk as she enjoys the peopliness of people in a similar way to me…

I told her about the cunning Kilimanjaro plan, along with the heartbreaking backdrop to it….
Without a pause – she said, really what I knew she’d say – a massive, enthusiastic, YES – DO IT. 

  
So that’s it…in 2 years – or so – time, I’ll be….sorry, we’ll be remembering, respecting, commemorating the life of a lovely daughter showing solidarity and love for all those effected by mental ill health. 

There’ll be obstacles and pitfalls, I’m sure – but nothing insurmountable. 

It’s another leg in the Walkamile ramble. 

WHEN ALL’S SAID AND DONE
And that was it. Josh was on his way. 

Jane Hornby, a SeeMe champion had received a ton of thanks for coordinating the letswalkatartanexplorerbadge day. 

  
The local MP, Hannah Bardell  had given a very personal speech in support of Josh’s endeavour. 

  
I’d shamelessly flogged the Glasgow Event on the 20th of April (having been corrected by Eleanor from SeeMe) whilst wishing Josh the very best, whilst reminding him he has my phone number, on his journey. 

Eleanor, the SeeMe Programme Manager for Communities had, as well as acting as the compere for the event, as ever been a great driving force behind it all – working quietly in the background ensuring the success of the day…

  

Ella – had, as ever, been the lovely Ella…I could gush…

The fifty-odd folk who’d turned up for it all had begun to drift off…
All of us were richer for the day. 

So, there you are…proof, if proof were needed…

Don’t RUN a mile – WALK a mile

Walk a mile

Chris

Posted in economy, government, hospitality, inequality, kindness, mental health, social work, Uncategorized, walking | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

18/03/16 Ghost.

Well that was a blast. Ok, I’m sure when I say I was at the SeeMe international anti-stigma conference you’ll think I’m being ironic. 

And if I say I was as happy as a kid in a sweetshop prior to the implementation of the sugar tax, I know you’ll be thinking I really ought to get out a bit more. 

This was a great gathering of professionals and punters under the same roof, talking about all things anti-stigma. 

There folk from the USA, from Denmark, from New Zealand, Spain, Canada and someone from a far off land you may not have heard of…England. 

Everyone passionate about what they’re doing – passionate about ending mental health stigma. 
It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s end mental health stigma,’ but what does that mean in reality?

New Zealand had led the way by being the first country in the world to have a national anti-stigma campaign – closely followed by Scotland and the other nations. 

It really feels like the Scots are leading the way through funding SeeMe, by putting financial weight behind the project and recognising that human rights are at the centre of it all.

From my perspective, and I appreciate this isn’t the experience of everyone with a mental health malady, I’ve found that when people are approached individually – where we take time to just have a conversation – they’re just fabulous – interesting, interested, hospitable, compassionate, empathetic and kind…

My problem is with structures. 

Bear with me, this is hard for me to get my head around. Structures, yes, that are created by the very same people I’ve said are fabulous. 

We have a human rights act that gives us these inalienable rights – 

Right to life

Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment

Right to liberty and security

Freedom from slavery and forced labour 

Right to a fair trial 

No punishment without law

Respect for your private and family life, home and correspondence

Freedom of thought, belief and religion

Freedom of expression

Freedom of assembly and association

Right to marry and start a family 

Protection from discrimination in respect of these rights and freedoms

Right to peaceful enjoyment of your property

Right to education

Right to participate in free elections

Yeah, I know, political correctness gone mad, eh? 

We all know of situations where the state – that clumsy plodding, thick-skinned beast – has run roughshod over these rights for folk with mental health problems. 

And yet…what have we done?

What have we done about benefit sanctioning? 

About landlords being able to discriminate against folk on benefits?

About buy to let mortgages that won’t allow private landlords to let to people on benefits?

About the fact that around 75% of people in prison have a mental health problem…

About the fact that many people with mental health problems are dying around 15 years earlier than the general population…

That roughly 20% of people with long term mental health problems are in employment…

That we’ve got a government that’s happy to lop off £30 a week from people’s incomes….

There’s more – we all know there’s more – it’s like a fucking shopping list of state sponsored stigma.

But there’s hope. I put the question to the panel of folk who’d visited from around the world. 

Their answers – from what I can remember and in no particular order…

Focus on specifics – for example how people with mental health problems are hugely over represented in the world of benefit sanctions.

Don’t be afraid to use legislation

Find unlikely partnerships – for example, in the States, mental health stigma campaigns have paired up with the civil rights movement. 

In England they’ve used vloggers – mainstream youtubers (yes, that does sound like a potato based insult) to talk about mental health…

We can – we will change things…

Oh yes, I mentioned a ghost…

Unrelated but…well…you decide…
In amongst all this I met Paula, a social worker I’d shared an office with just before the wheels completely fell off my wagon. 

Along with the lovely William, we’d shared a room and, as much as you can in the world of social work, we had a lot of fun. 

William’s sage message, ‘You’ll get on a whole lot better if you accept the job’s impossible,’ resonated with me – although I couldn’t quite ever believe it. 

Seeing Paula, I was taken back to that time at work – where I slipped in and out of reality – where I was flat out – working as hard as I could at home and at work and yet I was still sinking – if only I could just keep on keeping on…one foot in front of the other…

I remember Tom, one of my colleagues coming into my office, I think he was wondering what was going in…I remember resurfacing long enough to say to him, ‘I don’t know who I am,’ 

So, back in the room, Paula was smiling, we were chatting…it was lovely to see her…she had to go to the loo…

As she walked off a cascade of thoughts just poured through my head, memories of – dissociation – feelings of failure – desperation – suicidal thoughts – self harming – of failure – of fucking emptiness – standing in my office as Tom tells me, gently, I need help. 

I remembered my leaving do near the Falkirk wheel – my puzzled (ex) colleagues reading my ever so witty card that declared ‘You’re never alone with multiple personality disorder…’ 

Hilarious.

And back in the room. The day was winding up. There was a feeling of hope in the room – Judith, the director of SeeMe is moving on to human rights pastures new. 

I gave her a big hug – it had been a great day – we’ve got so much to do…so much…

Speaking with Eleanor, who’s been a great colleague and mentor over these past months, there was a great feeling that we’re doing the right thing – I’m sure we/ I’ll make mistakes, but it certainly feels we’re pointing in the right direction. 

I gave Paula the details of the website – I wonder if she’ll keep in touch? 

I realised that the old fear of rejection…of being misunderstood…of failure…fucking bastard failure… was still there. 

This was nothing to do with Paula. 

The ghosts are all mine. 

I…we…are doing the right thing. 

Inside and out, I/ we’ve got work to do

Walk a mile

Chris

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05/06/16 I’m not going to get any better. 

There, I’ve said it. And fuck, that’s a whole weight off my mind. Imagine the guilt, day in and day out to find I haven’t recovered. 

I know I have a bunch of symptoms that, when clustered together, attract the label of Borderline Personality Disorder. A label that, to the vast majority of the population, is completely meaningless. 

It’s a condition that’s been with me all my adult life, with 2 major epicentres – one in my teens (hey but I thought you said…?) and one in my forties. 

These days my symptoms are mainly dissociation – derealisation where the world becomes unreal where I have periods between an hour and 3 weeks where I don’t believe I’m real/ or something omnipotent in equal measures; hallucinations – mainly visual of ridiculous things – the last one was of an astronaut silently climbing through the ceiling above our bed – that are nonetheless surprising and occasionally shocking; invasive thoughts of extravagant and violent self harm with suicidal ideation mixed in at times; paranoia where…well, I’m sure you know what paranoia means…

Roughly translated it means I effectively lose 4 months a year. 

I’ve had a variety of psychological and psychiatric inputs over the years including cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, a fascinating mixture of medications and wonderful group psychotherapy. 

I don’t believe any flavours of further psychological wizardry will improve or change my symptoms in any way. 

Well that’s not a very positive message! What about hope? What about recovery? 

Well, there’s the thing…

I HAVE RECOVERED

This is what it looks like. 

This is what MY recovery looks like. Don’t let the word ‘Recovery’ be hijacked by the powers that be. As soon as someone else defines your your recovery, it stops being recovery. 

We’ve learned how to manage it. 

When it happens, it’s still shit, I still need a lot of help…but we manage it very well. 

More meds, darkened room, loud cop shows, gentle inner mantra ‘it will pass – it always does’

The rest of the time my life is great. 

I’m not the problem. Sure, I have a problem, but I’m not it. 

Today, as on most of my good days, I’m not thinking, ‘Why can’t I just fit in?’ 

I’m not saying I have nothing to offer myself and society. I know, like millions of others, I want to contribute to the world in a way that has some meaning to me. 

I’m not the problem. 

You’re not the problem.

The problem is government policy, laws, regulations and rules that openly discriminate against me and a bazillion others like me.

The problem is ignorance surrounding the ‘PC gone mad’ laws we do have, and their general lack of teeth. 

Strivers – Skivers.

Work capability assessments that aren’t fit for purpose – that run roughshod over people with mental health problems. 

Witch hunts, where 85% of people reported for benefit fraud by their fellow citizens were committing no fraud at all. The remaining 15% had insufficient evidence.Well, you don’t LOOK disabled!

 Is this seen as a hate crime? 

As harassment?

People with mental health problems are hugely over represented by a draconian sanctioning system. A system where people’s benefits are stopped for being late for a meeting, attending a funeral, being in hospital, or simply making a mistake. 

Losing their benefits for anything between 3 weeks and 3 years.

Where it’s a postcode lottery whether or not someone gets discretionary ’emergency’ payments. 

A justice system that doesn’t see this abject poverty as mitigating circumstances for theft of…a sandwich, where people receive custodial sentences for theft of food in Britain today. 

A system where as many as 75% of the prison population have mental health problems. 

A housing system where the massively growing private sector has landlords who are able to say they won’t let to people on benefits.

This is flagrant discrimination against people with mental health problems and/ or disabilities. 

We hear that many buy to let mortgages have a clause that excludes letting to people on benefits. And yet that goes unchallenged. 

Despite promises over the years, people with mental health problems still frequently receive a poor service from the NHS. People with long term mental health problems are dying 15-20 years earlier than the rest of the population. 

In the workplace people with disabilities are promised ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable them to work, or continue working.

But what does a mental health ramp look like? Apart from endless work capability assessments and benefit witch hunts, what’s really being done for people with mental health problems who want to get back into work? 

There’s more…there’s always more. 

Under this Dickensian system of sanctions and state sponsored discrimination, 1000 more people are taking their own lives every year. 

Action is needed for any change. 

We need to take action. 

This needs to stop. 

We need to work together to end this. 

I’m not going to get any better. 

It’s huge parts of the system that need to change.

Where do we start?

Walk a mile

Chris

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20/02/16 You lying, duplicitous, bastards.

 
This was my working title for the blog – others included ‘Do you really think we’re that stupid?’ or the more generously phrased, ‘Who are you kidding?’

Have you read this? Have you? Have you? 

It’s the 5 year forward view for mental health. 

For the life of me I can’t work out what it’s purpose is. 

Sure it’s shiny. And it’s packed to the brim with recommendations…you know…guidelines…

And it’s positively dripping with the word ‘should’. 

‘Should’, as in not ‘Must’ as in, ‘You don’t have to implement any of this’. 

I’m paraphrasing/ editing hugely here but…in summary…

It tells us loads of stuff we already know about the desperate state of mental health services in England.

It tells us that things SHOULD change. 

It tells us work is now a health outcome – as in we can tell your schizophrenia’s gone into remission because you’re working in Poundland. 

It tells us we’re going to have 24 hour, 7 days a week (doesn’t sound like government rhetoric at all??!) crisis services for those who need it. 

It tells us that these changes, plus pilot schemes, plus research will be implemented on the back of (Austen Powers face) £1 Billion….over 5 years. 

I’ve had a dig about and there doesn’t appear to be any reference to the debt these services already find themselves in. 

I’m angry. I don’t often get angry since, as some wise proverb or other states, anger gives off more heat than light. 

At the beginning of the week the government…no, sorry, a group independent of the government produced this glossy, 82 page report on how the dark days of mental health past will evolve into a positive Eldorado of psychological wellbeing.

Here’s why I believe NOTHING will change…well, nothing other than thousands of folk with mental health problems cascading into therapeutic work. 

In 2014/15 the Cost of the NHS  in England was £101.3 billion a year…
In 2013 it was reported that, although nearly a quarter (22.8%) of all NHS events were related to mental health, mental health services only received 11% of the budget. That’s a shortfall of £11.8 Billion. 

Keep this in mind. 

During the times of austerity, 8% of that meagre budget was cut. 

That’s a cut of £889 million

We’re told that there’s going to be a brand new, £1 billion over the next 5 years to provide us with God knows what. 

That £1 billion – as you can see if we take away the £889 million in cuts – has faded away to just £111 million extra….over the next 5 years…

I know…I know what you’re going to say at least that’s £111 million more than…

Yes it is, but look at how it’s being sold…an extra £1 Billion! To provide us with all of these wonderful shiny services…

But remember – looking at the above figures – mental health services were already underfunded by £11.8 billion. 

So…hard sums here…underfunded by £11.8 billion plus another £0.8 billion means it’s underfunded by £12.6 billion…

So, let’s take that generous £1 billion coming our way over the next 5 years…you get er…£11.6 billion under…

I’ll tell you what you get – you get Fuck off you bunch of duplicitous lying bastards!!

And that’s before we even begin to consider the £4.6 billion that’s been cut from social care. The same social care that’s supposed to work hand in hand with the NHS to ensure…do you know, to ensure fuck knows? What can you be expected to ensure when your budget’s being cleaved year in year out while workers on the mental health coal face are being told these aren’t cuts – they’re efficiency savings – and to ‘use yourself as a resource’? 

Since the report was commissioned, and therefore not written, by the government, it doesn’t start with an apology for the wholesale slaughter of our citizens. 

Or….for lack of services, for insecure housing, for benefit assessments that actively discrimate against claimants with mental health problems, for a draconian sanctioning system that does the same, for pedalling the rhetoric of skiver versus striver in an attempt to drive a wedge down the centre of our lovely British community, and for the increase of 1000 extra deaths a year in folk taking their own lives.

The recommendations made in this ‘let’s look to the future’ document are all well thought out…yes, alright, except for the notion that we’ll be cured by work…the authors aren’t asking for the moon. 

While I was writing this I started to think, ‘And how much does a report like this cost…?’ 

Which, in turn, reminded me of a social work manager I knew, who openly mocked herself when she started saving on paper clips in the hope that it would somehow rescue her budget from a fate worse than death. 

We need reports like this. We need mental ill health to be in the public eye. 

But to pretend that this is the dawning of a brave new world is at best naive, at worst duplicitous in this climate of astonishing underfunding. 

Where will the money come from? 

Read the report – it’s already acknowledged that mental ill health costs the economy (if that’s the way you want to view this) £105 billion (the cost of the entire NHS) every year. 

I’m not an economist, but…

The authors state early on in the report that we’re winning the war on mental health stigma. I’d love to join them in that belief, but I can’t.

As long as we have structural, institutional stigma and discrimination cascading from those who claim to be the curators of our society, nothing will change. 

People are fabulous. It’s time we gave them the opportunity to be just that. 

Walk a mile

Chris 

Posted in economy, government, inequality, kindness, mental health, social work, Uncategorized, walking | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment